Turlington tackles maternal health care plan

Former supermodel Christy Turlington says Canada's plan to put maternal health on the agenda for the upcoming G8 summit would be stronger if abortion funding was part of the package.

Supermodel turned documentary filmmaker Christy Turlington praised Canada's plan to put maternal health on the agenda for the upcoming G8 summit, but suggested it would be stronger if all issues, including funding for safe abortions, was part of the package.

Turlington was in Ottawa on Thursday to show her documentary on maternal health and mortality — No Woman, No Cry — at a private screening for MPs.

The film focuses on how birth is handled in four countries, Tanzania, Bangladesh, Guatemala and her home country of the United States.

She said she was thrilled to hear that Canada was willing to put about $1 billion toward maternal and child health in the hopes other G8 countries would make similar pledges.

"Canada has taken an amazing leadership position by having maternal and child health on the agenda for the G8," she said.

Turlington was diplomatic concerning the federal government's position that funding should not go to groups or projects that encourage access to safe abortions. However, she said the data on maternal health — which shows that about 13 per cent of maternal deaths worldwide are linked to botched illegal abortions — is hard to ignore.

"This billion dollars could be spent very well, and if we're interested in saving lives, we're talking about doing whatever we can do to prevent unnecessary deaths," she said.

"It's important that a comprehensive package is what is offered."

From model to motherhood

Turlington, who rose to fame as one of the most prominent supermodels of the 1980s, decided to make a documentary after she became aware of complications resulting from the birth of her first child 6½ years ago.

Both she and her daughter were fine, but doctors told her she had suffered postpartum hemorrhage, which is severe bleeding after birth. She later learned PPH and other obstetrical hemorrhages account for about one in four maternal deaths.

The experience inspired her to make the documentary and go back to school and earn a master's degree in public health at Columbia University.

She said she was taken aback to learn not only that 90 per cent of maternal deaths are preventable, but that in many countries women have little or no say in the kind of care they receive.

"The status of women is a problem in so many parts of the world, and is one of the real barriers to women accessing the care that is rightfully theirs," she said.

Turlington said for impoverished families without access to care, the decision of whether to save a woman's life can sometimes come down to whether the family can afford it.

"That is shocking, because of course in this part of the world, most of us have access to that kind of care," she said. "Those disparities were the most glaring."

With files from the CBC's Sandra Abma